Newswise — A weight loss intervention in people with type 2 diabetes was found to alter levels of cancer-related proteins, according to the findings of a new University of Bristol-led study. The study, published in eBioMedicine, is the first to show that weight loss in people recently diagnosed with diabetes can change the levels of cancer-related chemicals circulating in the blood.

According to Diabetes UK, over five million people in the UK live with diabetes and over 600 million people could be afflicted worldwide by 2045. Weight loss is now a key intervention thanks to the Diabetes Remission Clinical Trial (DiRECT), which found a dietary weight loss programme could put type 2 diabetes into remission.  

Despite this positive development, individuals with type 2 diabetes face an increased risk of developing several types of cancer. Previous studies have found that having increased body weight alters the levels of circulating proteins with a known link to cancer. Motivated by these findings, researchers from Bristol Medical School collaborated with colleagues from the universities of Glasgow and Newcastle who led the DiRECT trial. They sought to evaluate whether the benefits of weight loss in people with type 2 diabetes also impacts their risk of developing cancer.

To investigate this, the team used data from 261 patients with type 2 diabetes who were enrolled in the DiRECT trial. The team analysed their blood samples from before and after weight loss to find out if proteins known to be related to cancer were altered by the weight loss intervention.

Nine cancer-related proteins in blood samples were found to be changed by the weight loss intervention compared with the control group who had received standard care for diabetes treatment.

Emma Hazelwood, one of the study’s lead authors from the University of Bristol’s MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit (MRC IEU), said: “Results from this study help us gain insight into potential mechanisms linking type 2 diabetes and body fatness with cancer development. These findings offer encouraging evidence that the increased cancer risk seen in people with diabetes might be reduced with weight loss interventions. This has important implications for both diabetes treatment and cancer prevention.

“The next step for this research is to find out whether the short-term changes we identified really do result in longer-term reduction in cancer risk in people with diabetes.”

The study was funded by Diabetes UK, Cancer Research UK, World Cancer Research Fund, and Wellcome.


Impact of weight loss on cancer-related proteins in serum: results from a cluster randomised controlled trial of individuals with type 2 diabetes’ by Caroline J. Bull, Emma Hazelwood et al. in eBioMedicine [open access]

Journal Link: eBioMedicine